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Burned Once Too Often, Patterson Vows Silence

December 02, 1987|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Mark Jackson has run past him. Ricky Nattiel has run under him. Steve Largent has run around him. John L. Williams has run right smack over him.

The way things have been surprising a certain Charger cornerback these past two weeks, it was only a matter of time before something else would jump the dauntless Elvis Patterson.

Alarm.

It happened Tuesday, when the former Super Bowl star quit the swagger, quietly leaned against a stone wall in the basement of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, and said he's embarrassed.

He's bitter.

He's losing sleep.

And this is the last you'll hear from him until January.

Patterson, who lines up his monologues in the 'I' formation, said he has been shut up.

"I'm embarrassed, I feel bad, my back is against the wall," Patterson said. "I have been feeling the pressure, week in, week out. And all my talking ain't getting nothing done. It's time for all of it to stop.

"This is my last interview until the end of the season. This is it. Hopefully, my teammates will take heed to what I'm doing. Now, it's time to just play."

This is the same Patterson who had the only interception in last season's Super Bowl, setting up a touchdown for the winning New York Giants. The same man who, after his release from the Giants this fall, cradled the undefeated Charger replacement team under his leadership.

He held impromptu team meetings. He made impromptu promises of glory for all. Then at halftime of the final replacement game against the heavily favored Raiders, with the Chargers trailing, 14-7, he told teammates he would win the game for them with an interception.

And he did. With 18 seconds left, he picked off a Vince Evans pass and took it 75 yards for a touchdown to give the Chargers a 23-17 victory.

At the time, he said: "I'm a big-play cornerback. I promised my team that I would get one for them. I was just living up to my promise. That's my job; that's what I'm best at."

But then came losses to Seattle and Denver, when the 8-1 Chargers became 8-3, and everything about Patterson became suspect.

In a 34-3 loss to the Seahawks Nov. 22, Largent beat Patterson for a five-yard touchdown pass. Williams caught a ball in front of Patterson and simply ran over him for a 12-yard touchdown reception.

In a 31-17 loss to the Broncos Sunday, Patterson was beaten by two balls that traveled a total of 100 yards in the air. Jackson caught a 52-yard pass leading to a touchdown, and Nattiel caught a 46-yard pass that was a touchdown.

In the two games, at least six major passes were completed against him for a total of 143 yards and 3 touchdowns.

"A lot of times Elvis is not getting beaten. He's in good position, either the ball is underthrown or he's not finding it," Coach Al Saunders said. "We still have confidence in Elvis that he's a tremendous asset to this team."

Not good enough, Patterson said.

"Even if a ball is underthrown, I still should be able to make the play," he said. "And when I lost a ball in the air, well, the receiver picked it up, so why couldn't I?"

Saunders also said that Patterson needs to forget about all of this.

"A cornerback can't afford to lose any concentration or confidence thinking about the last play," Saunders explained. "The most important thing he must have is the ability to forget what happened."

Not exactly true again, said Patterson, 27.

"To dwell on the past is to lose an eye," he said. "But to forget about the past is to lose both eyes.

"When those guys beat me, I got real teed off on myself. They were in my territory, and I don't let invaders in my territory. I got very depressed."

All of this has taught Patterson to finally take a good, if not hard, look at himself.

"I don't care what anybody says, the coaches, the press, the fans," he said. "I'm not able make the plays, and I better start making them. This is no longer a joke. This game is no longer for fun. This is a business.

"The only way I'm going to keep my job is to respond positively to every bit of negative publicity. I've got to start making the plays."

When does all this start?

"It starts today," he said Tuesday. "No, it started yesterday. No, it started after that game Sunday.

"Definitely I lost sleep then, and then got bitter feelings all over. I had bitter feelings after the Seattle game, and now even more bitter feelings after the Denver game."

This from a man who was formerly so confident, he had his nickname, "Toast," imprinted on his license plates. It didn't matter that he was given the moniker by the Giant secondary because he was burned so often.

These days he is trudging home after work, riding his stationary bike until he can forget about work, then hugging his 9-month-old daughter, Krystal, to help him realize just what it is he is working for.

"I get home and ride my stationary bike as hard as I can, to clear my mind," he said. "Then I grab my daughter, I hug her, I tell her I love her, and she's always smiling. She makes these big ga-ga eyes at me.

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